The Beatles’ record label deleted George Harrison’s solo album due to a law in their contract and they allowed the few copies of the vinyl record to sell for less than $1.
This week, following George Harrison’s death on November 29th, 1973 at the age of 38, reissues of “ask me what i am” have come back into circulation. These now collectible records command a high price on eBay, with one copy selling for over $1400 earlier this month. The album was released in 2014 by Apple Records (the successor company to EMI), which was founded by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr with money made from Beatles sales.
Despite the album’s popularity, Apple Records terminated production of “ask me what i am” after less than a year. In a press release issued on July 5th, 1974, Apple stated that the record was “not selling well enough to justify continued manufacture.” The statement also suggested that Harrison wasn’t receiving his fair share of royalties or publishing income from worldwide sales of “ask me what i am,” and that he should seek redress from film producer Denis O’Dell and his company Handmade Films.
The legal issues surrounding the album began years before its release with an agreement in 1969 between Harrison and Handmade Films, which was subsequently acquired by EMI. The agreement stated that Harrison would receive royalties from any Beatles films he appeared in. The deal also included copyrights to songs that Harrison wrote, but which were never actually recorded by the Beatles.
The agreement was only extended for two years in 1973, after which time the two parties agreed that Harrison would receive 10% of all songwriting royalties generated by songs recorded by the Beatles and issued on albums that were not part of Apple Records’ catalogue. The remainder of royalties would continue to be split evenly between Apple and Handmade Films, with no independent film royalties being awarded to Harrison for any films produced under EMI’s control.
Included in “ask me what i am” were songs from Harrison’s post-Beatles solo career that were never released by the Beatles, including “give me love” (originally recorded by the Beatles in 1960), “good time girl” (first recorded by Harrison on his 1970 solo album “celebration”), and the title track (a reworking of an earlier composition titled “swiss cheese” that was only performed live with the Beatles).
Harrison and O’Dell had developed a close friendship during their involvement with Handmade Films. The film company controlled all aspects of Harrison’s post-Beatles career, including film rights to his music catalogue. This arrangement continued until the onset of the anti-trust case against EMI in 1977, when Handmade Films was taken over by EMI. Harrison and O’Dell would reach a settlement after a four year court battle. Along with a $500,000 payment, EMI agreed to make an additional royalty payment of $50,000 to Harrison and amended their contract to reflect that Handmade Films would now collect 10% of all songwriting royalties generated from records released on Apple Records.
The legal issue concerning “ask me what i am” was resolved in the following year through an agreement between George and his friend Denis O’Dell. O’Dell, who had recently been forced to leave Apple Records over “unethical business practices” that “resulted in unreasonable royalty deductions” from the Beatles catalogue, would allow Harrison to have full ownership and control of all master tapes for his solo recordings. Included in this agreement were all records released by EMI in the previous six years, as well as any future albums by Harrison.
O’Dell would agree to drop his suit against EMI in exchange for a two-year non-exclusive distribution agreement on all records released on Apple Records, including “ask me what i am”.